North Xtra: Even with new coach, North Allegheny still No. 1

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The North Allegheny swimming dynasty has continued as expected, without skipping a beat with the transition from 35-year coaching legend Kirk "Corky" Semler to his former swimmer and former assistant, Patrick Wenzel.

Semler always went out of his way to downplay his contributions to the program that has become the standard in Western Pennsylvania when it comes to high school swimming, saying he never swam any of the strokes that helped bring 24 WPIAL and nine PIAA championships to the school in McCandless. He was never one of the 132 swimmers who attained All-American status while he was there.

His successor, Wenzel, is a lot like Semler and it is easy to see why.

Wenzel was coached by Semler before graduating from North Allegheny in 1994. He returned to the program and served as an assistant under Semler for 10 years and has led the club team, Allegheny North Swim Club, for the previous nine years.

"It is not about me, it is about these kids," Wenzel said. "I am just carrying on the North Allegheny tradition."

"These kids" to whom Wenzel was referring are two of the best boys and girls high school swimming teams that have competed in Western Pennsylvania. Both the boys and girls have WPIAL and PIAA championship hopes.

"We have a very strong boys team coming back and our girls are looking pretty strong," Wenzel said. "It has been a smooth transition, I also coach the club team, so even the freshmen I have been coaching for a long time."

The North Allegheny boys should be locked in a tight battle for the WPIAL Class AAA team title with Upper St. Clair. Both of those teams could also be locked in a tight battle with one or two programs from the eastern part of the state for the PIAA Class AAA team title.

The North Allegheny boys have won seven of the previous eight WPIAL Class AAA team titles with the lone non-title-winning season coming in 2011 when Upper St. Clair won.

The Tigers are led by seniors Zachary Buerger and Sam Rutan. Buerger is the defending state champion in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle. Rutan is a distance freestyler, who finished fifth at states in the 500 freestyle last season.

Other standouts include juniors Jake Krivacs, Greg Arnold, Casey Melzer and Max Staresinic and sophomore Daniel Songer.

In late December, North Allegheny hosted a dual meet with Upper St. Clair. Upper St. Clair coach Dave Schraven called it arguably the fastest boys meet in WPIAL history. Six pool records fell during the boys portion of the meet and considering the standard of competition over the years, the North Allegheny pool is probably the toughest place in the WPIAL to set school pool records.

North Allegheny set four of the pool records in addition to Buerger and Melzer combining to set three school records. Now the oldest record on the walls belongs to a 200 freestyle relay from 1993 that features a familiar name -- Patrick Wenzel.

"I have to put together as many fast relays as I can until I get rid of myself," Wenzel said. "The dual meet against Upper St. Clair reassured me that it is going to be an absolute battle with them at the WPIAL championships."

On the girls side, North Allegheny will be nearly impossible to beat in the WPIAL. The Tigers are in the midst of a five-year WPIAL Class AAA title reign. Take it from Bethel Park girls swim coach Bill Kennedy, someone who knows a thing or two about dynasties. North Allegheny's current five-year title streak came just as Bethel Park's four-year title reign ended. The Black Hawks also won 13 titles in the 1970s and '80s and three more from 1998-2000.

"North Allegheny is just going to kill everyone," Kennedy said. "They are unbelievable, probably one of their stronger teams. Looks like NA will have a shot at a state championship, they are just dominating everyone."

With a stable of swimmers including seniors Jade Song and Kristen Bishop, juniors Morgan Soulia, Jacquelyn Du, Kayla Churman and Charlie Brickner, sophomore Gianna Caputo and Erin Kuhn and freshman Lauren McGrath, North Allegheny has its typical mix of top-end talent and depth.

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